Learning curve Teachers, parents experiencing sticker shock in school-supply aisles

Lise pulls a plastic folder from the store shelf, shaking her head.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/08/2022 (210 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Lise pulls a plastic folder from the store shelf, shaking her head.

“This was great,” the Grade 5 teacher says, holding the item up inside the Pembina Highway Staples Thursday. “It lasted literally all year for some kids, and if a kid lost it, whatever. But at $2?”

Inside Lise’s cart are colour-sorted stacks of 15-cent cardboard folders — blue, red and yellow in piles. The teacher, who declined to give her last name, is opting to buy three of each folder per student instead of the plastic alternatives to save money.

“I’m usually done by now,” Lise says. “I’ve never really had to think at (this) as much.”

She’s among the Manitobans searching for back-to-school savings as the province clocks high inflation levels and elevated prices of goods.

More than one-third of Canadians expect to spend more on school shopping this year, according to a Retail Council of Canada and Caddle survey.

Denise McGory and her grandson, Nolan Parsons, examine pencil cases an aisle away from Lise.

They came to Staples for a large zippered binder with a three-inch ring. They then saw the $32.99 price tag — Parsons will be using last year’s binder.

“It’s been thrown around a bit,” the 12-year-old says, shrugging.

His family chose a new pencil case instead.

“People have to make choices instead of being able to get both items,” McGory says. “We made a choice to go with the more practical purchase.”

Some back-to-school goods may cost more because of ballooned prices from earlier this year, says John Graham, the Retail Council of Canada’s director of government relations for the Prairies.

Many stores order clothing, books and electronics in late winter and spring for August.

In 2022, it meant buying as Russia began its Ukraine invasion, as the pandemic continued to wreak havoc on supply chains and as the cost of fuel soared, among other issues.

“All these things are ultimately impacting pricing,” Graham says.

The owner of Pen and Paper, a stationery store, says cases of copy paper cost 50 per cent more now than they did last November. Prices are up across the board — and they must be passed to the consumer, he said.

Still, shops are battling each other — and online competition — for customers, meaning they’re keeping costs down as much as possible, Graham say.

“Ultimately some… costs just have to be passed on.”

Brian Scharfstein orders shoes for his business roughly a year in advance. Back-to-school shoppers aren’t seeing price increases at Canadian Footwear yet, according to the company president.

If anything, shoe prices will increase next spring through next fall to reflect this year’s higher costs of shipping, Scharfstein says.

Students are coming in droves.

“Now they’re back in the gymnasiums, (and) now they do need two pairs for school,” Scharfstein says, noting kids are getting separate shoes for indoor and outdoor use.

Some are buying winter boots — Canadian Footwear is currently receiving shipments it was supposed to get in January and February.

“There’s a belief that, to a degree, we’ve shifted into the ‘live with COVID’ as opposed to (facing) restrictions that may impact school operations or other businesses,” Graham says.

It’s another reason folks may spend more this season — they’re leaving the house regularly and need additional items.

Around 86 per cent of Canadians reported they expected to make back-to-school purchases this year, a substantial increase compared with the past two years, Graham says.

Some are workers expecting to return to the office, he adds

An increase in the purchases of reusable lunch containers is among the signals that school is back on, says Angela Torgerson, general manager of McNally Robinson Booksellers.

“It feels like there’s just an anticipation for sending kids back to school, and excitement is in the air,” she says. “If anything, we’re seeing more people out shopping.”

Although McNally Robinson’s suppliers have raised their prices, the bookstore hasn’t had to increase its own yet.

Non-book items are still taking an extra two weeks to reach stores, Torgerson notes.

“The ports… they’re still congested,” says Barry Prentice, a supply chain management professor at the University of Manitoba.

However, the lineups of ships have dwindled considerably compared to earlier pandemic days, Prentice notes.

Freight rates are also weakening, though still expensive.

“I think the… surge (in demand) that we had is easing off,” Prentice says.

It’s partially because of relaxed public-health restrictions, he says. People can now spend money on travel and services. While in lockdown, folks used their extra cash on goods, much of which had to be shipped.

If global events continue as they are, there likely won’t be major price increases to school supplies next year, Prentice predicts.

“Prices tend to be sticky,” he says, noting goods like binders usually don’t drop in price.

Around 77 per cent of respondents to Caddle and the Retail Council of Canada’s poll planned to spend more than $50 on back-to-school items.

Clothing was the most popular purchase; 56 per cent of Canadians said they’d buy some this season.

About half of respondents figured they’d spend the same amount on school shopping as last year.

The survey was conducted online in June. Most online surveys aren’t assigned a margin of error because they don’t randomly sample the population.


Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

Report Error Submit a Tip